Early Detection of Dementia: Study Reveals Scans Find Evidence of Dementia 9 Years Before Onset of Symptoms

Because of longevity more people suffer from memory loss. MRIs have been used to help diagnose dementia for some time. Now, researchers claim to be able to see evidence of dementia nine years before someone starts to notice symptoms.

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Early Detection of Dementia: Study Reveals Scans Find Evidence of Dementia 9 Years Before Onset of Symptoms
5 Min Read February 17th, 2023

Given the dramatic growth in the number of older adults in the United States and worldwide, dementia can become a significant health concern leading to the need for long-term health care and supervision. The number of people living with dementia globally is expected to double every 20 years, going up to 135.5 million by 2050.

Brain scans have become increasingly important tools in the diagnosis and treatment of dementia, allowing doctors and other health care professionals to gain insights into the functioning of the brain that can help inform clinical decisions and improve care. 

Often many families ignore early symptoms of dementia until it becomes evident that something is wrong and their loved one needs attention. Families are shocked to learn that the required long-term care is not covered by Medicare or supplements.

If dementia could be identified much earlier, it would allow the person to make lifestyle changes that could slow its progression and give their family time to plan.

Imaging May Show Dementia Nine Years Before Symptoms

According to recent research, brain imaging can detect dementia nine years before symptoms appear, giving people time to develop healthy habits and slow down the disease's progression.

There is no cure or effective treatment for Alzheimer's or other dementia. Despite no cure, getting a scan and building your brain's resilience through mental challenges, being social, and living a healthy lifestyle will help.

Timothy Rittman, a neurologist who led the research at Cambridge University, says new research shows that signs of dementia can be discovered up to nine years before an individual shows symptoms of dementia.

Timothy Rittman

We have always suspected this might be the case ... [In people with genetic types of dementia] you can pick up subtle signs on brain scans years before a formal diagnosis.

MRI scans have been used to see physical damage or abnormalities in the brain, such as the presence of lesions or shrinkage in certain areas, which can help doctors assess the severity of the disease and make a more accurate diagnosis. Similarly, CT scans have provided detailed information about brain structure, allowing doctors to spot any possible damage or irregularities due to dementia.

There have been lots of studies of treatments to stop or slow down dementia, but many have started too late, as have prevention strategies, like blood-pressure management.

Dr. Rittman says people should get regular health screenings to monitor the heart's health, including monitoring and controlling blood pressure in middle age or earlier. All of this is thought to contribute to better brain health.

Scans Have Been Helpful with Diagnosis of Dementia

Professor Huw Williams, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Exeter, says there is overwhelming evidence that brain scans, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT), can be critical in diagnosing dementia. 

Brain scans demonstrate significant benefits when diagnosing dementia, especially in identifying the presence, type and severity of the disease.

There are also other ways in which brain scans help diagnose and manage dementia. One example is fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) PET scans, which provide information about how well the brain uses glucose—the primary energy source for neurons. This kind of scan can be valuable in identifying metabolic abnormalities associated with the disease. It can also inform the development of more targeted treatment strategies. 

Professor Hakim, a neuroscientist at the University of Toronto, says that while brain scans can provide invaluable information about dementia, they still have some limitations and should not be relied on exclusively for diagnostic decisions. 

Brain scans should be used in combination with other tests, such as cognitive and neuropsychological assessments, for the diagnosis of dementia.

He says brain scans provide a snapshot of the current state of the brain and, as such, may not be able to detect subtle changes in functioning over time or identify the cause of dementia. Overall, brain scans have been highly beneficial in diagnosing and treating dementia. 

Types of Dementia

The most common types of dementia include Alzheimer's disease, Lewy body dementia, Vascular dementia, Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), and Parkinson's disease dementia. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of cases. Lewy body dementia is the second most common, followed by Vascular dementia, Frontotemporal dementia, and Parkinson's disease dementia. 

Other types of dementia can include Huntington's disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The causes of dementia can vary, but the most common risk factors include age, genetics, lifestyle, certain medications, and existing medical conditions.

Scans See Slight Changes in the Brain

The new research shows that scans can see slight changes in the brain; giving an individual a "head-up" allows for lifestyle and health changes which may slow the progression of the disease and give someone a better quality of life for a longer period.

While this knowledge would usually prohibit a person from obtaining Long-Term Care Insurance because policies are medically underwritten, the early diagnosis allows families to prepare. The individual would have time to make lifestyle changes which would delay progression and the need for care and supervision.

Caregiving for Those with Dementia

People with dementia may require long-term health care to manage their physical, emotional, and social needs. Typically, this means providing help with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, and eating, as well as providing additional supports such as engaging in social activities, memory aids, and medication management. 

Additionally, support may include help with behavioral and cognitive issues such as wandering, agitation, and memory problems, as well as providing assistance with financial management and end-of-life planning. 

Dementia is only one of many reasons people require help with daily living activities or supervision due to declining memory. People need long-term health care due to chronic illness, accidents and mobility issues, dementia, and the frailty of aging.

With long-term care costs rising rapidly nationwide, being prepared will better enable you and your family to ensure quality care options protect assets and reduce the stress and anxiety placed on those you love.

Successful treatment and cure of dementia are unlikely anytime soon, so waiting for a cure is not a good strategy. Even if scientists successfully find an effective treatment or cure, the need for future long-term health care will not go away. Most people get coverage in their 50s when they enjoy better health and can take advantage of lower premiums.

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About the Author

Linda is a former journalist who now enjoys writing about topics she is interested in so she “can keep her mind active and engaged”.

LTC News Contributor Linda Maxwell

Linda Maxwell

Contributor since December 11th, 2017

Editor's Note

The emotional and financial burden of dementia care can be staggering for families. Watching a loved one suffer from this cruel and debilitating disease can be heartbreaking and incredibly difficult. 

The costs associated with dementia care can quickly add up, leading to financial strain and difficult decisions that must be made to give the individual the care they need. 

According to the LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator, these costs are rising rapidly nationwide. Traditional health insurance and Medicare will not pay for this care. Medicaid will pay for dementia care and other long-term health care, but only if the care recipient has little or no income and assets.

LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator - Find Your Location

Families must be strong and resilient to support their loved ones through every step of this journey. Long-Term Care is both a cash flow issue and a family issue. Are you prepared for the consequences of aging?

People need long-term care for several reasons, including chronic illness, accidents, mobility difficulties, dementia, and frailty. Aging happens, and being ready will protect assets and reduce the burdens placed on the family.

Long-Term Care Insurance is an affordable solution. You will have access to quality care in your desired setting. Your loved ones will have time to be family. Your assets will be protected. 

Types Of Long-Term Care Insurance Policies & Which Is Best For You?

The best time to get coverage is when you still enjoy good health. Most people get coverage in their 50s.

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